Trader Joe’s FAVORITES

This post is more of a confession. I shop at Trader Joe’s. If you have read any of my posts, it should come as no surprise to you that I am very picky about where I grocery shop; I am a snob. For the most part, I shop at a co-op, Mississippi Market. I shop there because I can buy fruits and vegetables (dried, fresh and frozen), dairy products, beef, lamb, poultry and fish, bulk grains, seeds and nuts, sweeteners (like Maple Syrup and honey), chips, crackers, and cheeses all sourced from local growers and producers. As a gardener and a cook, I feel that these products are superior in taste and freshness. I also feel better about buying lamb from the Midwest, rather than New Zealand and apples from Minnesota versus Chile.  Furthermore, I like supporting smaller food companies.

When I first heard we were getting a Trader Joe’s in close proximity to my house, I was excited; I love to shop for food. However, I soon became disappointed in them and the majority of their devotees. Sorry to offend. Most importantly, they do not sell any local milk or produce. None. Even Whole Foods has a few token local products. Although I do not buy many things in the freezer section, I browsed through it because it seems to be their “main isle”. I was shocked to find that the pizzas were shipped from Italy, the eggrolls from Thailand and their “Haricot Verts” (is that what they are called…fancy little green beans) were from France. When I have to beat my green bean vines back with a stick, it disturbs me that my neighbors and friends are buying green beans from France in the middle of the summer when the poor local farmers have them fresh at the market-it seems criminal!  These French green beans are their second best seller…

Despite my vehement objection to their ethics, Trader Joe’s has finally worn me down. The fact that it is located halfway between my two children’s schools makes it hard to pass up when I have an emergency. Even though I would still drive an extra 10 minutes if I needed milk or meat or produce, I have discovered a few treasures at Trader Joe’s that have become fixtures in our home.

1. SOYAKI-We have been devouted fans of SOY VAY for years (you can buy that at most grocery stores). Autumn would bath in this gingery-sesame-soy-garlic marinade if she could. The Trader Joe’s version of this sauce is very good (a bit sweeter). We use it to marinate large elk and venison roasts, beef flank steaks (skirt steaks are too fatty!) and chicken legs. I try to marinate the meat overnight if I am using a bigger cut. Although a marinade like this is easy to make from Asian pantry items, the bottled stuff is not far off from homemade and so convenient. If you like this flavor profile, try this salmon recipe.

2. Almond Butter with Flax Seeds: We have eaten almond butter for years, but, this stuff is the best stuff I can get in Minnesota. (Yes, I have stuffed my suitcase with Freshly Ground Almond Butter from the Ferry Building in San Francisco.) It has flax seeds and a great taste and texture. We even like the shape of the container for stirring it and keeping it homogenized. Although Autumn prefers peanut butter, and I always buy that organic, Alan and I love this Almond Butter on our homemade Danish rye bread, drizzled with honey.

3. “Handful of Almonds and Cashews”-sold in nut section. Although I do not typically buy things with frivolous packaging, these are great tasting nuts and very convenient for traveling and keeping a few stashes in your purse. Autumn prefers the cashews. I love the almonds.

4. Nuts and Seeds-My first choice for nuts and seeds is my co-op, they are a higher quality. However, when I need a large quantity of something and the quality can suffer a tad, I go to Trader Joe’s. They have a good selection and are a good value.

5. Cinnamon School House Cookies-Coming from a person who makes homemade graham crackers, when I say buy these cookies, you should listen. With Autumn just learning to read and spell and Finn beginning his letter recognition, these adorable letter and number cookies are perfect for my kids and delicious. They are not very sweet and perfect for a snack before bed or in lunchbox. To ease any guilt about cookies, I make them work for their food: Autumn can have as many as she can use in a word and Finn gets to practice his letters while he eats. (I should add that their Thick and Hearty Old Fashioned Graham Crackers are so good I may give myself a break more often and buy graham crackers.)

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